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Flavors from the Black Sea

anchovy_s.jpg (12465 bytes)To be honest I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it. Perhaps it originally began as one. It was the Hamsi-Name (Book of the Anchovy) by Hamamizade İhsan published in 1928. The book discusses every imaginable aspect of the anchovy, which has played a central role in the traditional economy and cuisine of the Black Sea region for long centuries. The section which concerns us particularly here is that entitled The Anchovy in the Kitchen and on the Table which gives a large number of recipes for anchovies, including stuffed fried anchovies, anchovy omelet, anchovies piyaz, anchovy kebap, anchovy ‘birds’, anchovies in brine, pide (flat bread) with an anchovy filling, anchovy stock and many others. Hamsi kuşu (anchovy birds) is described by Hamamizade as follows:

Soak salted anchovies in cold water for several hours, changing the water four or five times to remove the excess salt. Then drain and strip away the backbone, squeeze well and dust with wheat or maize flour. Chop fresh parsley, mint and onion, season with salt and black pepper and mix and rub well together. Spread a little of this mixture onto each opened anchovy, fold over lengthwise and squeeze firmly to close. The result is supposed to resemble a plump bird, similarly to the way that the Nasreddin Hoca (a comical 13th century character) likened the stork to a bird without the beak and and legs, hence the name of this dish. Then dip in beaten egg yolk and fry well in hot butter or olive oil. Eat immediately before it has time to fly away.

Anchovy birds and the Hamsi-Name demonstrate that the difficult conditions of life on the Black Sea could not crush either the inhabitants’ sense of humor or their creative contributions to Turkey’s culinary culture. Indeed the Black Sea cuisine is where their creativity shows up best. The enormous range of dishes is one aspect of this creativity, as just a glance at the lists of traditional dishes of the region shows. If we take soups, for example, there is barley soup made with barley, milk and suet, lobya soup made with beans, tomatoes, onions and neck of lamb, pifoli made with beans, maize flour and cow’s milk, husli soup made with cabbage and maize flour, and guli soup made with cabbage, beans, onions and maize flour.

Unusual vegetable dishes are another aspect of Black Sea cuisine. Among the first which come to mind is muhli made with chard, onions, meat, butter and black pepper, and malahata, a dish for cold winter nights made of white beans, mint, onions and butter.

Another characteristic of this cuisine is bread made of barley, rye and maize as well as wheat. Then there are unleavened breads such as lavaş and tandır, bread containing grape molasses (pekmez), and miroloto, a kind of vegetable bread containing cabbage, chard and onion as well as maize flour. If anchovies are added to the latter variety it is known as hamsikolo bread.

Puddings include mafuzi, made by frying wheat flour with a little salt in olive oil, and serving it with honey and melted butter, paluze a kind of blancmange made with wheat flour, milk, water and sugar, pepeçura made with grape juice and wheat flour, and termoni made with grape molasses, korkota and white beans.

Instead of allowing this mountainous terrain with very little fertile soil for cultivation to cramp their culinary style, the inhabitants have poured their creativity and humor into cooking with the limited ingredients available.

Now to return to anchovies, which are the most famous ingredient of this regional cuisine:

You are an anchovy who swims the wide seas
Your cry echoes as you begin to cook
I burn with your love come to my aid
I throw myself at your mercy, anchovy.

hamsi-pilav.jpg (13303 bytes)ANCHOVY PILAV
1 kg filleted anchovies
2 tablespoons olive oil for the pilav
250 g rice1 medium onion (finely chopped)
1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup olive oil
50 g pine nuts
50 g currants
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon mintsalt and pepper.
Pour sufficient scalding water over the rice to cover, stir in a tablespoon of salt and leave to cool. Meanwhile put the chopped onions and 1/4 cup of water into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the olive oil and continue to cook for a few minutes. Drain the rice, add and cook for 5-6 minutes. Mix in the currants, pine nuts, 1.5 cups of nearly boiling water and sugar, cover, and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes.Stir in the other spices, cover and leave for 10 minutes. Meanwhile grease an earthenware casserole and line the base and sides with just over half the anchovy fillets skinside outwards. Pour the rice mixture into the center and cover the surface with the remainder of the anchovies. Sprinkle a little olive oil over and bake for 30-40 minutes at 200 degrees Centigrade.
guli-soup.jpg (5060 bytes)GULİ SOUP
500 g of dark green cabbage leaves (finely chopped)
250 g white beans (soaked overnight)
100 g suet or lard
100 g stewed lamb
2 tablespoon maize flour
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
1.5 litres chicken stocksalt and pepper.
Melt suet and fry the onions over a high heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the maize flour and continue to fry for a few minutes. Slowly add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Season to taste, cover and simmer for 35 minutes. (We thank Mr. Vedat Başaran and Feriye Restaurant for the recipes.)
1/2 kg fresh anchovy fillets (finely chopped)
hamsi2.jpg (12182 bytes)2 tablespoon parsley (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon fresh mint (finely chopped)
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
3 slices stale bread (soaked in water and squeezed) maize flour salt and pepper oil to fry
Mix the chopped anchovies, herbs, spices, bread and garlic thoroughly, form into flat oval rissoles, dip in maize flour and fry in hot oil.
1 kg maize flour
250 g butter
30 g salt
30 g baking powder
2.5 cups water
250 g of dark green cabbage leaves (finely chopped)
250 g of chard (finely chopped)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
miroloto.jpg (20174 bytes)Mix the flour, salt and baking powder. Form a hollow in the centre and toss in diced butter. Gradually pour in the water and stir thoroughly into the butter. Add the other ingredients and mix into a dough. Place the dough into a greased saucepan and cook over moderate heat for 40 minutes.
Flavors from the Black Sea
By Ali Esad Göksel,
Skylife 09/98